Premiere this Sunday, July 20, The Lottery is set within a dystopian future affected by a global infertility crisis. Facing humanity’s extinction, Dr. Alison Lennon – played by Marley Shelton (The Eleventh Hour) – and her team manage to remarkably fertilize 100 embryos. Dr. Lennon’s victory is short-lived as the Director of the U.S. Fertility Commission takes control over her lab. The American President’s Chief of Staff, Vanessa Keller (Low Winter Sun’s Athena Karkanis), convinces the President to hold a national lottery to award the 100 embryos.
The Lifetime series is shot in Montreal and is written by Timothy J. Sexton (Children of Men). Also starring are Michael Graziadei (The Young and the Restless), Martin Donovan (Weeds), Yul Vasquez (Magic City), Shelley Conn (Terra Nova) and Canadian actor David Alpay (The Vampire Diaries).
We caught up with Alpay while he was in Toronto this week for some insight into his character as well as shooting the futuristic series in Montreal.
The Lottery is quite different than Lifetime. It’s much more edgier compared to the cable network’s existing slate of programming. Do you feel like The Lottery’s premise will attract a male audience to a network that has usually skewed for females?
They’ve got a cool concept here. You are right, it’s kind of a re-branding for the network, they want to broaden their audience, but I think that it’s just a really cool concept that just happens to be set in the near future, so in that sense, it’s kind of this sci-fi show that deals with a medical crisis. Ultimately, it’s about people and the way they interact with each other – it’s the dynamic between the characters. Yes, I do think it’s going to reach a younger, sort of hipper audience. I think that more people will definitely tune into the show.
Your character, James, is the assistant to Marley Shelton’s character, who after years of research, found a way to fertilize 100 embryos. What more can you tells us about your character.
He’s a scientist – that’s his calling and lifelong passion. He’s had this relationship with this colleague, where as much as their work has to come first, elements of this relationship are going to bleed into their work environment and the decisions he has to make.
There’s a cliffhanger in the first episode where there are these mysterious forces at work and James has to decide who he’s going to align himself with. He’ll have to make that decision rather quickly, not only to save his skin, but this project that’s he’s worked on, to repopulate the planet as it’s facing extinction.
Will we see something romantic between James and Alison?
I think that anything is possible. It might be inevitable. You never know with a show like this. We’re [still]shooting the series. We’re shooting episode six and airing episode one on Sunday, so we’re really cutting it close to the bone. There’s stuff that I still haven’t seen in the next few episodes, but it gets pretty juicy!
What can you tell us about the nefarious characters that James and Alison deal with? Is this fraction of the government good or bad?
There are a couple of different groups. The President needs a win, he’s facing a lot of discontent and he needs to show people that he’s in control and can garner hope. So, the government tries to step in but there is also this other group, the Department of Humanity, where Darius Hayes – played by the brilliant Martin Donovan – works. I think that this guy is on his own warpath and his motives will become clearer as time goes on, but he’s very disturbing!
How much of the science will be explored? Will we learn about how both men and women became infertile?
We don’t know at the beginning if it’s environment or hormonal. They’ve been struggling so long to figure out how to cure the disease [they are treating it like a disease].
We don’t really go into what caused this situation until the later episodes. James and Alison will start to do some investigating. The detective work is probably playing homage to our show’s CSI roots because of Danny Cannon, who directed our pilot [and is also the show’s executive producer]. He was the creative brain behind the CSI franchise. That will be the extent of how far we go in terms of a procedural. We do go and investigate and try to figure out what caused this… Was it airborne? Environmental? Toxic?
The series is set in 2025, what are some of the technological advancements that we’ll see on this show? For example, the cell phones in the pilot are pretty cool, they’re clear/transparent – will there be any other futuristic gadgets we will see throughout the first season?
Our production design team is amazing. Their office is covered with images of the kind of aesthetics that they want to create on our show. Lots of linear, clear, white plastic and simple reductive shades.
One of the really cool things about where we film our show is that we film it in Montreal! It’s really interesting as Montreal hasn’t really been shown on television that much. While we shoot there and pretend it’s D.C. or Baltimore, what’s really neat about Montreal is that back in the 1960s and 1970s, they built these really interesting structures like Moshe Safdie’s Habitat or the Olympic Stadium – which are iconic to us as Canadians, but unfamiliar to a lot of Americans. So when they see it, they’ll be like “Look at these futuristic buildings and how distressed they are.” Which is kind of the effect that we’re going for. They’ve been around for 40 to 50 years in Montreal, weathered by storms and time, which is perfect for our show because we’re trying to create this near future that’s a little worse for wear.
As for the gadgetry, there’s a lot of CGI and pro mastering that goes on behind the scenes. I was impressed with the phones as well, because when we use them on the show, there’s no digital information being projected on them. I was very impressed with how far they went to make that look really cool and functional.
We see a lot of American shows and movies that deal with these apocalyptic problems, but they always seem to be “American problems,” meaning they don’t really touch upon the situation on a global level. It’s always a map of the United States of America. Since the show is filming in Montreal, is there more of an effort being put into showcasing this epidemic on a global scale, rather than just an American problem?
We do touch on the global reach of the crisis. They drop mentions here and there about the “crisis in Italy,” or Venezuela. As it’s set in the future, we’ve had to fill that time with a totally internally consisted logic that as you watch the show, the mythology is revealed to you step by step.
There is a lot of comparison to Children of Men, which is also written by Timothy J. Sexton. What’s your take on that comparison? Were you a fan of the movie?
I love that movie! There’s more of an emphasis on this show on hope and optimism, though. We’re in the crisis – in the depths of despair – but the message on our show is that by working together, we can dig ourselves out of this. The name of the show is The Lottery, and that implies hope. That implies that everyone gets a chance. That’s really what our show is about.
The Lottery premieres this Sunday, July 20, at 10 p.m. ET on Lifetime and Lifetime Canada.